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It’s September 2015. Jacky Chen has arrived in Vancouver, Canada, to continue his bike ride around the world. He has already ridden over 5,000km since he started in June, just three months earlier. The house he’s staying at isn’t big, so he decides to lock his bike out front. He wakes the next morning to continue his journey and discovers the fence out front is broken. His bike is gone.
Crestfallen, he goes to find another bike, but before he does, an unlikely saviour comes to his aid.
“The local newspaper knew who I was and what I was doing, so they called the police and they both tried to help,” Chen told CyclingTips from Amman, the capital of Jordan. “The paper interviewed me, published it in the newspaper, and also aired the interview on TV. Then, someone contacted the police station and told them they have found my bike.”
And so, the journey continued. Chen’s been on the road for the nearly four years since and he expects his adventure to continue for at least another three years.
Before setting off on his trip, Chen left his job as a electrical engineer in Taiwan — he’d become dissatisfied with the everyday grind and wanted a change of direction. While most people will take a two-week holiday to refresh, Chen has instead ridden over 40,000km from Alaska to Jordan, via Cuba, Argentina, Poland, Iceland and Croatia, to name just a few of his pit stops.
There’s nothing unusual about uprooting your life and going to see the world. Whether it’s on a cruise ship, by train or by bike, it is a common outlet to escape from the life you’re accustomed to. Yet, taking off and riding around the world, camping and couchsurfing for over four years, is extreme. For Chen, however, this wasn’t a daunting prospect. It was about seeing the world for himself while also being able to share it with his friends.
“I read a Japanese book where he [the author] went and saw the world,” he said. “So, I thought ‘Maybe I can also do this kind of trip.’ I hope I can take all my friends to see the whole world.”
Chen’s Facebook page, ‘Jacky Chen – Go or Die’, is the main way he has chosen to share his journey with his friends, family and followers. It is a time capsule of photographs spanning continents and terrain travelled by bike, plus a record of the people he’s met along the way. But why ‘Go or Die?’
“The book I told you about? Well, the book is not called ‘Go or Die’ but its Japanese title translates to something similar to ‘Go or Die’,” Chen said. “So I decided to use it as my motto.”
‘Don’t Go Will Die’, written by Yusuke Ishida, is about the moment the author, while in primary school, saw a young man on a bicycle loaded with luggage ride past him. He decided he wanted to follow in this stranger’s footsteps and see the world, much like Chen following in the footsteps of Ishida after reading his book.
Despite being from Taiwan, Chen decided to start his journey in Anchorage, Alaska. The reason? So he could start on one side of the world and gradually ride around to the other (see map above). Since Alaska, he has seen more places in four years than most will see in a lifetime.
“From Alaska, I went to Canada, the United States, Mexico, Central and South America,” Chen said. “When I finished all of America, I flew to Europe and visited all the countries in Europe. Now, I am in Jordan and from Jordan I will go to Egypt and the countries in Africa. After Africa, I will go to Asia.”
When he’s riding, Chen doesn’t have a concrete plan as to where he is going next, where he will sleep, or what he will be greeted with upon arriving at the next destination. He simply chooses his next destination off Google Maps at the time, then gets going. “I just choose the best route to visit whichever country is next,” he said. “I don’t normally plan ‘I will stay in this city or this town,’ I just keep riding and see where I go.”
Chen has slept with coyotes, camped on barren roadsides, and taken refuge in small bedrooms. He figures that, as long as he has his bike and a thirst for adventure, the rest can be sorted along the way.
While this seems like a dream scenario, a blissfully peaceful experience of bike riding and being immersed in different cultures every day, there are challenges.
“The hardest [moment], I think, is sometimes there is very, very bad weather,” Chen said. “Sometimes the conditions are very cold, with snow, and it is very difficult to ride in snow because the road is very slippery.”
Chen visited Canada in winter, where temperatures dropped as low as -15°C. In complete contrast, it’s over 40°C in Jordan at the time of the interview. In such conditions, even professional cyclists occasionally require shortened routes to survive racing in such extremes.
As if battling against these conditions wasn’t enough, Chen’s also carrying a staggering amount of gear with him. “I carry a lot of luggage, maybe around 93kg, so it can be very difficult to ride,” he said. “Sometimes, you can’t even ride because it just pushes you back and it is easy to fall down.”
Chen rides a Merida Wolf 3 Cycle with a Shimano XT groupset and DT Swiss X1700 Spline wheelset. “It’s the kind of bike for a long trip,” he said. “The tire is not as skinny as a road bike, but is a little wider than a mountain bike. It is stronger than a road bike because I need to carry a lot of luggage.”
Out on the road, he carries clothes for both summer and winter conditions, a stove, spare bike parts and extra cooking supplies. He said he has everything he needs with him — almost all of a house, but on two wheels. He sometimes travels with a small trailer attached to his bike, like one designed for a child, to help carry his luggage. It is an alternative to strapping it to the sides of his bike. That trailer, too, fell foul of thieves at one point.
“I was staying at a Mexican’s house and the owner was very angry that my things had been taken,” Chen said. “He posted on Facebook, social media and also connected with his journalist friend. His friend interviewed me and put me in the newspaper. The next day, my trailer was found.”
But, only the trailer. His luggage had gone and he had to start collecting possessions again from scratch. However, there was one positive to come out of that experience, according to Chen. “I became a famous guy in the city and everyone knew Jacky Chen!”
Chen’s trip is a way for him to meet new people, see new places and create a community of followers who can view the world through his eyes. It is about learning of the good in the world and how it can be found all around us when we stop to look.
“I’m not a rich man and I’m not a professional athlete,” he said. “I’m just an engineer. When I am in trouble, many people try to help me. Some people can host me, some people maybe give me water or food. Some even some give me money even though they don’t know me. I think this is a very beautiful world.”
So, is there an end on this one-man global bike adventure, or can it be sustained as a way of life? Chen has visited three continents and is on his way to two more — he doesn’t think the finish line will be in sight for a little while longer.
“I cannot tell you exactly when I will go home,” he said. “I think I need three more years. For now, I just keep going on my trip. I will go to Central Asia to see all the countries. And then, maybe, I will go to Australia.
“Of course, I miss my family and I miss my home. But, I told them [my family] I have families all over the whole world because every house I stay at, I feel at home. They always make me feel like I am just at home. They are all my family, in every country. My family is not just in Taiwan.”
This Taiwanese engineer has been able to craft a life for himself out on the road. He has been able to transform a day-to-day life he was no longer excited by into something that brings new and eventful moments every day. It is a dream for many and a reality for Chen who simply wanted to see the world by bike.
Just one man, his bike, 93kg of luggage, and more than 40,000km of riding. So far …
About the author
Sonia Blair is a journalism intern from the University of Adelaide, Australia. Some of her earliest memories as a child involve spectating roadside at bike races with her dad, eventually growing into a love for the beauty of cycling. Outside of late nights watching live European races, Sonia can be found sipping an overpriced chai latte or watching a Wes Anderson film.